In the Weed Part III: All in the Family

As the Pearcy family heads into their first summer running Heartland Labs, they acknowledge getting involved in the medical marijuana industry was far from an obvious collaborative choice.

“It was kind of one of those things where the situation arose at the right time,” said Michael Pearcy, managing partner.

Michael Pearcy said he considered the business idea, which he now runs with children Hayden and Maddi Pearcy, for weeks before getting on board. He and two other undisclosed family members are the sole investors of the cannabis-infused product manufacturing facility.

“I studied it in depth for a few weeks to figure out if we wanted to throw our hat in the ring and be able to make a difference,” said Michael Pearcy, declining to disclose the startup investment. “If we do this, we want to do it right. Our focus is on patient care and quality of products.”

The products are edibles, including cookies, gummies and honey, as well as vape cartridges and capsules. The Buffalo facility began production in March, and it supplies dispensaries across the state.

In the background
Pearcy said he’s motivated, well organized and has an attention to detail – traits that have followed him since college and serve him well in his role at Heartland Labs.

“It was pretty much a requirement in the military, particularly in the flight environment because attention to detail is very, very important,” he said, noting he retired from active duty in the Air Force around 30 years ago.

He’s been around airplanes most of his adult life. He’s worked as a pilot with American Airlines and the Air National Guard and has flown commercially with FedEx for 26 years, adding that’s a job he plans to maintain.

Son Hayden, Heartland’s lab director, was born 29 years ago at Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County, Illinois. However, the family soon made their way to Springfield where Hayden and younger sister Maddi, 26, were both raised.

Maddi Pearcy said their parents divorced in 2005, and she and her brother are still close with mother Michelle Carr.

The siblings agreed working together was an attraction.

“When I was little, anything that Hayden did or liked, I also liked,” she said. “We’ve joked about the fact that it’s cool that we’re siblings but we also hang out.”

Each graduated college in 2019 with bachelor’s degrees quite different from their current profession. Hayden said his degree from Missouri State University is in criminology, while Maddi earned her degree in psychology at Drury University.

Personal connection
The siblings’ interest in the industry goes beyond a professional connection. Both are medical marijuana patients.

Hayden Pearcy said when he briefly lived in Colorado in 2011, he received a medical marijuana card for treatment of residual pain in his neck and shoulders sustained in a vehicle wreck. Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000 and recreational use in 2012.

After moving back to Springfield, another injury led to him eventually get approval for a Missouri medical marijuana card. He was knocked off his feet while walking his dog in 2016, fracturing his spine. He avoided surgery but dealt with back pain for years.

“That’s where it benefits me,” he said of medical cannabis, noting he only uses it after work hours. “I have no inflammation and no pain in my back. I can come to Heartland and produce medicine for our patients for eight to 10 hours a day because of the medicine.”

Maddi said she also only uses marijuana in the evenings, adding she received her medical card last year for anxiety and sleep problems.

“I notice a huge difference in both of those since I got my card,” she said. “I sleep better now than I think I have in my entire life.”

She previously used prescription medication, such as Seroquel for sleep and Klonopin for anxiety, to little benefit. For years, she averaged around four hours of sleep a night. Today, it’s between seven and eight hours, she said.

The siblings emphasized they never use cannabis before work and only purchase products directly from dispensaries.

Unlike his children, Michael Pearcy has no medical usage experience with marijuana. When it comes time for testing Heartland’s products, the staff makes him noninfused samples, he said.

“I never really had an interest in it when I was in school,” he said. “When I graduated college and went into the military, I was in a flying regime and that was just a nonplayer. Being in the military and now flying commercially, we have random drug testing all the time.

“Aside from the professional drawback of it obviously, I just don’t have a desire to do it. But I definitely see the advantages for patients.”

Finding balance
The Pearcys say they have a good dynamic in the office, with Michael and Maddi handling the administrative side and Hayden leading the lab. That’s not to say the work-life balance is figured out. They must occasionally remind themselves to keep business separate outside the office, Michael Pearcy said.

“It always bleeds over a little bit, but everybody here keeps that in the forefront to keep things separated a little bit,” he said. “We have to because we don’t want this to take over our lives. We don’t want to drag family issues or family celebrations into work.”

Hayden Pearcy said a checks and balances system is in place.

“Accountability is a huge thing around here,” he said. “The three of us are always checking over each other. We’re respectful of each other, but we definitely hold one another very responsible for what goes on.”

Michael Pearcy admits balancing his work at Heartland Labs with FedEx is “tricky at times.” Right now, it means he’s always working.

“I think I’ve had about three days off in the past six months,” he said, noting he works Monday through Thursday at Heartland and Friday through Sunday for FedEx. “It’s not sustainable.”

He said it’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make at this point to get the family venture more established. Mandatory retirement at FedEx is roughly four years away.

“Like starting up any business from scratch, you’re going to have to put in long days and long hours,” he said. “Once we get over some of our speed bumps along the way, then the process will start playing out a little bit more. I can then take more days off now and then.”